Goodridge Academy student Dante Brown, 15, gives a tour of the school, Thursday January 23, 2014. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com
Goodridge Academy student Dante Brown, 15, gives a tour of the school, Thursday January 23, 2014. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Every month, the Goodridge Academy's five teachers each select one student to be recognized for excellent academic performance.

Those names go on certificates, displayed prominently on a wall outside the academy's classrooms.

Dante Brown — whose name is on that wall five times — is leading the pack.

But, just a year ago, the 15-year-old York City teen gained his teachers' attention in drastically different ways.

Kids used to bully him, Brown said. So, he'd get into fights or skip class, sometimes literally leaving the Lindbergh Education Center.

"I used to walk out all the time," he said.

Those behaviors are what landed Brown at Goodridge Academy, the new name for what used to be known as Lindbergh.

Staff move from classroom to classroom to ensure a good teaching environment at Goodridge Academy , Thursday January 23, 2014. John A. Pavoncello -
Staff move from classroom to classroom to ensure a good teaching environment at Goodridge Academy , Thursday January 23, 2014. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

About two years ago, York City School District officials decided change was needed at the alternative school for kids with "severe" disciplinary issues, Superintendent Eric Holmes said.

"What we were trying to do at that school wasn't being as successful as we wanted it to be," Holmes said. "We found that there were students who were lingering in that facility longer than we would have liked."

A group of administrators and teachers visited a couple of schools in Philadelphia operated by Success Schools, a branch of Specialized Education Services Inc.

Last year, the district hired the company to bring its program to Lindbergh.

"You look for those people who you think can do the job, wherever you find them," Holmes said.

New team: An entirely new team of teachers and administrators took over in September with the goal of transforming the school environment and the attitudes of the kids who'd been sent there.

And, so far, Holmes said, he's pleased with the results. Attendance is up. Disciplinary incidents are down. And there's evidence that Goodridge students are learning to be leaders, Holmes said.

"We see that the students are more involved in the day-to-day running of the school," he said.

Recently, the academy's principal chose Brown to lead reporters on a tour of the building.

For students, each day begins simply enough — with a greeting and handshake from the school's teachers and administrators.

"I get to see them smile," Brown said. "If I'm here in a bad mood, I'll tell him about it."

The "him" Brown referenced is Bret Wade, the academy's principal, who said the daily greetings give the staff an opportunity to gauge the personal well-being of each student every day and pro-actively address any potential problems before they happen.

From there, students store their belongings in lockers and spend some time relaxing with breakfast — another chance for staff to observe the students.

Then, it's time for assembly, a highly structured "100 percent professional" routine run by students but monitored by staff. There's no talking or laughing. Students can share thoughts or publicly apologize for earlier mistakes.

Expectations, consequences: After assembly, if a student talks out of turn on the way to class, the whole group returns and does it again. Assembly happens three times every day, Wade said.

Students get a chance to decompress during their lunch and recess periods. Appropriate and respectful behavior is expected at all times, he said.

"There's a big difference between age-appropriate behavior and delinquent behavior," Wade said. "We don't tolerate delinquent behavior."

When students misbehave, the staff has a menu of seven intervention options to choose from. They range from "friendly non-verbal" cues — communicated with hand gestures or raised eyebrows — to a "manual hold," the physical restraint of a student who has become a threat to himself or someone else.

"That's the last thing we want to do," Wade said, estimating it happens once or twice a month.

Every week, students are assigned a rating — positive, negative, neutral, etc. — reflecting their overall performance for the past week. Those ratings are then posted for everyone to see.

It's peer pressure by design, Wade said.

Not suspension: This isn't a suspension program, where students serve a set number of days and then return to school. Kids can't just sit and "watch the clock," Wade said.

The overall goal, he said, is to teach students how to accept feedback and overcome problems.

"A lot of our kids are great kids who have weak moments," he said.

To return to a regular classroom, students at Goodridge must achieve certain milestones. Brown, for example, has earned his status as a member of student government.

With that status, Brown is expected to behave as an extension of the staff, serving as a role model and "redirecting" students who are struggling.

"I know what I'm supposed to do," Brown said. "My goal is to leave here and graduate from high school."

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.